Radical Fathers and Moderate Sons

  • Ian Dennis


The use of love stories to articulate national or political themes produces difficulties, as I have noted, for ideological programs of the sort that tend to resolve themselves into a structure of binary oppositions. At the same time, the love story seems to present a useful opportunity to writers interested in federal, conciliatory or at any rate more complicated forms of relationship. The problem, or advantage, seems to be related to specific qualities of sexual desire. Sexual desire — even more obviously than other kinds of desire — is not a stable quantity, least of all in the hands of a novelist sensitive to its triangular tendencies. Scott’s fiction, for example, complicates the connection between any individual hero and heroine with a proliferation of doubles, rivals, capriciously changing objects of attraction, problematic and partial satisfactions and, even more prominently, shifting and untrustworthy indicators of gender. Moreover, a confusion of sexual roles and genders, ultimately generated by the tendency of desires to imitate other desires, is not an isolated effect but emerges as an aspect of a larger vision. As Daniel Cottom expresses it, every kind of ‘borderline’ in Scott becomes ‘obscure’ and ‘threatened’, and this includes the borders between reason and superstition, between individuals, nations, classes and generations.1


Sexual Desire Love Story Wilful Ignorance Paternal Authority Radical Father 
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  1. 6.
    Alexander Welsh, The Hero of the Waverley Novels (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), 115.Google Scholar
  2. Jane Millgate, Walter Scott (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), 83–4.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    This in itself is not untypical of New Comedy as well. See Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 163–7.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 100.Google Scholar
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    A sketch of the novel’s ‘mixed’ reception is part of the Introduction to the Albany edition. Lionel Lincoln; or, The Leaguer of Boston, ed. Donald A. and Lucy B. Ringe (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), xxvi–xxxv.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Considering the prominence of its national father it is surprising, for example, that the novel receives no references in Warren Motley’s otherwise excellent The American Abraham: James Fenimore Cooper and the Frontier Patriarch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
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    See the Introduction to George Dekker and John P. McWilliams, ed., Fenimore Cooper: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 23.Google Scholar
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    John P. McWilliams praises these passages in similar terms, comparing them to the work of ‘Tolstoy, Stephen Crane and Hemingway’ but neglecting, I think, the locus classicus in Stendhal. ‘Revolt in Massachusetts: The Midnight March of Lionel Lincoln’, in James Fenimore Cooper: New Historical and Literary Contexts, ed. W. M. Verhoeven (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993), 101.Google Scholar
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    See Kay Seymour House and Genevieve Belfiglio, ‘Fenimore Cooper’s Heroines’, in American Novelists Revisited, ed. Fritz Fleischmann (Boston: Hall, 1982), 42–75.Google Scholar
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    The unknown ‘F. A. S.’ quoted in George Dekker and John P. McWilliams, ed., Fenimore Cooper: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 131.Google Scholar
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    The words conclude the passage containing the death of Hetty Hutter. The Deerslayer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987), 535.Google Scholar
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    See also W. B. Gates, ‘Cooper’s Indebtedness to Shakespeare’, PMLA 67 (September 1952): 721–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 126.
    As this is such a contentious issue, I shall once more recapitulate: most evaluations of Lionel Lincoln have had difficulty accounting for this most prominent feature of its structure, and pronounce artistic failure. ‘What Cooper intended all this to show is not clear. The Gothic episodes clash with the historical ones ... There are too many clashing elements ... many critics have found praiseworthy elements ... but all agree it is an unsuccessful book.’ Donald A. Ringe, James Fenimore Cooper: Updated Edition (Boston: Twayne, 1988). This, however, is a toning down of Ringe’s earlier judgement that ‘there is no real thematic connection between Lincoln’s family problems and the basic setting of the book’ and that ‘the impression that the two most influential patriots in Boston were both insane’ was ‘of course, far from Cooper’s intention’. James Fenimore Cooper (New Haven: Twayne, 1962), 41–2. But the theoretical problem of the ‘intentional fallacy’ is not somehow obviated by implying that an author simply didn’t know what he intended. Surely the attempt must at least be made to assemble the major elements of the work and confront the possibility of meanings unexpected, perhaps uncouth, even unpatriotic.Google Scholar

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© Ian Dennis 1997

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  • Ian Dennis

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